LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The 70th Emmy Awards opened Monday on a political note, with edgy jokes hurled at everything from diversity in Hollywood to Donald Trump, as television s top stars settled in for a showdown between drama heavyweights “Game of Thrones” and “The Handmaid s Tale.”
After the stars strutted up the red carpet at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the three-hour gala opened with a daring song-and-dance number poking fun at an array of hot-button issues in America.
“We solved it!” crooned “Saturday Night Live” nominees Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson, with back-up from pop stars John Legend and Ricky Martin — and even RuPaul — about the problem of diversity on the small screen.
They then yielded the stage to hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che, who are also regulars on the veteran NBC comedy sketch show — and let the zingers fly.
“This year, the audience is allowed to drink in their seats. Hope you re excited about that — because the one thing Hollywood needs right now is a bunch of people losing their inhibitions at a work function,” Jost said, a reference to #MeToo.
In describing “The Handmaid s Tale,” one of the evening s top nominees, Che said the Hulu show “takes place in an imaginary future where an entire group of people is violently forced to work and make babies against their will.”
“It s what black people call history. It s Roots for white women,” he quipped, referring to the landmark 1970s television mini-series about slavery.
It was an offbeat yet amusing start to the Primetime Emmys, television s version of the Oscars. Looking to boost audience ratings, organizers said they were hoping to shake up the format.
The early part of the night was dedicated to the comedy programs: sentimental favorite Henry Winkler won his first Emmy for best supporting actor for his work on HBO s caustic tale of a hitman-turned-actor, “Barry.”
His co-star Bill Hader won the prize for best lead actor.
Amazon s “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel” won both for lead actress (Rachel Brosnahan) and supporting actress (Alex Borstein).
Both “GoT” and “Handmaid” have already picked up Emmys hardware: HBO s blood-spattered smash hit won seven statuettes in technical categories at the Creative Arts Emmys a week ago, while “Handmaid” scooped up three.
And both are likely to add to that haul later Monday, with “GoT,” which was ineligible last year, aiming to reclaim the best drama series throne from “Handmaid” — the first streaming series to take the coveted prize.
For Tim Gray, the awards editor for top entertainment news outlet Variety, “Handmaid” — a bleak portrait of a future dystopian America where women are brutally oppressed, based on Margaret Atwood s 1985 novel — has the edge.
“I just feel like Handmaid s Tale is, kind of, of the moment as it addresses a lot of concerns that people have now,” Gray told AFP. “I just think it s their year.”
But Sasha Stone, founder of entertainment site Awards Daily, said “Thrones” should not be dismissed.
“It is more beloved across the board. It, too, has put its power center in the hands of women and is, in its own way, about oppression of the rights of theirs and others,” Stone said in an interview.
Others in the best drama race include dark horse pick “The Americans” — the gripping FX thriller about Soviet sleeper agents in the United States that has been a favorite of critics and fans, but not the 22,000-plus Emmy voters, for years.
HBO s futuristic western “Westworld,” Netflix favorites “The Crown” and retro sci-fi mystery “Stranger Things,” and NBC family saga “This is Us” round out the field.
In 2016, “Game of Thrones” — the tale of noble families vying for the Iron Throne — made history, picking up 12 awards and becoming the most decorated fictional show since the Television Academy first handed out prizes in 1949.
With its seven Creative Arts Emmy statuettes this year, “GoT” — which will return in 2019 for an abbreviated eighth and final season — now has 45 Emmys overall.
In the acting races, “Handmaid s Tale” is well placed, with last year s winners Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd again in the running.
Other major contenders include FX s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” which racked up 18 nominations.
Darren Criss is the favorite to win the star-studded race for best actor in a limited series or movie for his searing portrayal of Versace s killer Andrew Cunanan.
In the emerging battle of traditional networks vs new platforms, streaming giant Netflix ended HBO s 17-year streak of leading the Emmy nominations, with 112 to the premium cable network s 108.
After last week s Creative Arts Emmys, HBO has won 17 statuettes to Netflix s 16.